Ryan Murray (Real)
If you’re the betting type, and you single out a large, physical, swift-skating defenceman on a team that could continue to go from doldrums to playoff-bound in eight months, you’re not gambling.
The fact Murray – Columbus’s No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft – missed all of last year to injury should excite you. He played for Team Canada’s World Championship team before he was even drafted, and he’s coming into a team that was mere points from a playoff berth in 2013.
The Blue Jackets are in the middle of an exciting rebuild, and Murray – like Tyler Myers in 2010 – should be a blueliner who benefits from the turnaround, and he could very well receive some hardware next summer.
Sven Baertschi (Fake)
The Swiss playmaking dynamo would be a favourite for most predictors, but his up-and-down play in Calgary may turn some off. (Oh, hell. It already has.)
On Monday, new Flames president of hockey ops Brian Burke blasted Baertschi for his non-existent defensive play and said he hasn’t seen anything special from the young kid aside from a few flashes of hope.
Burke then ended that strip-tearing by saying, “I’m not ready to throw up under the bus here today and rip him.”
Gee, Brian. I think you just did.
Sean Monahan (Fake)
Monahan’s position on this list all depends on how the Flames decide to use him. Calgary’s sixth overall pick from June’s Entry Draft will start the season in Cowtown, but it’s very possible Burke and GM Jay Feaster will send him back to his junior team in Ottawa before his rookie contract kicks in after nine games.
The Flames aren’t positioned to challenge for the postseason in 2014, but that doesn’t mean they can’t surprise some, and that doesn’t mean Monahan won’t get his shifts, if he deserves them.
Still, when’s the last time Brian Burke gave a young guy a real chance? Whether it’s Baertschi, Bobby Ryan (Anaheim), or Nazem Kadri (Toronto), it’s clear not a lot impresses the guy. Other than himself, of course.
If Monahan stays in the pros, he’s Real. But, if not… well, you get it.
Morgan Rielly (Real)
Like Monahan, Rielly has the tools and the hype to make a move for the Calder, as long as his Maple Leafs are prepared to play well and as long as he gets his shifts. Unfortunately, Rielly’s one in a very long line of hopeful rookies with an unsure status heading into Tuesday night.
That said, I’ve slotted him as Real. D-men just seem to have a better shot at this sort of stuff, and their effectiveness rarely rests on the points they put up, unlike Monahan’s or Baertschi’s will.
Jacob Trouba (Real)
Like Murray, Trouba’s a lock to make the Jets. Actually… he’s already made the Jets.
Word out of Winnipeg is, he was their best player often in the preseason.
Word from the rest of the league, though, is that’s not saying a lot for a team that just went 1-4-3 in eight contests.
Mark Scheifele (Fake)
For a team that has yet to make a playoff run in its two seasons in Winnipeg, the Jets are surprisingly log-jammed in the spots Scheifele needs to be, and that throws his Calder candidacy – once again – into the wood chipper.
A kid like this needs to be put in a position to score. But, with the team’s top six/seven spots split between Evander Kane, Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, Olli Jokinen, Michael Frolik, and Devin Setoguchi, it would be hard to imagine Scheifele taking too many shots on goal between now and April.
Barring a trade or a free agent castoff (Jokinen, maybe?), it’s hard to imagine much changing before next season, either. Scheifele is slowly becoming to the Jets what Cody Hodgson once was to the Vancouver Canucks.
Torey Krug (Real)
Is this even fair?
Sure, Krug is a bonafide rookie in the NHL’s official eyes, but the kid was already a monster performer for last year’s Eastern Conference champion Bruins during Boston’s playoff run, and he’s established himself as a starter with a safety net.
That said, there were many moments Krug fell apart in key games. Those moments were amplified by the fact they were in the Stanley Cup, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see his role reduce during the regular season, especially if fellow young blueliners Dougie Hamilton or Matt Bartkowski outplay him.
Matt Bartkowski (Real)
Copy and Paste what I said about Krug.
Valeri Nichushkin (Real)
Nichushkin should be considered – along with Murray – as one of two true frontrunner for this award. He’s got the size, the speed, and the all-out skill to run over anyone in the Western Conference (or whatever that ‘conference’ is called now). If he stays healthy, he could do what Vladimir Tarasenko couldn’t finish last year.
Nichushkin could also see some serious time with Dallas Stars’ captain Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, but he’ll have to outwork Erik Cole for that top line spot.
Still, there’s no rookie forward who seems more ready for his time in the spotlight than Nichushkin.
Nathan MacKinnon (Real)
It’s hard to not consider a guy like MacKinnon, who should absolutely prove to be the best all-around player to come out of June’s Entry Draft… one day.
I predict that not just because he was drafted No. 1., but also because he was far and away the best player in the Canadian Hockey League’s Memorial Cup last year – a tournament that included other first-rounders like Seth Jones, Jonathan Drouin, Bo Horvat, and Max Domi, and his skill simply won’t be denied… eventually
This year might be too early for MacKinnon to make his mark in the NHL, even if there should be plenty of room for him in Colorado’s shallow depth chart.
No. 3 overall pick Jonathan Drouin was just sent down to Halifax, so any rookie – no matter the hype – is safe from that kind of demotion, temporary or not.
For MacKinnon, he may just not have the opportunity to shine as bright as Nichushkin or Murray. But, he was No. 1, so we’ll consider him Real for the time being.
Seth Jones and Filip Forsberg (Real)
Sorry for the combo, but both have a shot and it’s still hard to imagine them both having a shot, if you know what I mean?
Forsberg’s been just waiting for his close-up and Jones better have a big ol’ chip on his shoulder after he was slighted by not one, not two, but THREE clubs in June’s NHL Entry Draft.
On a team like Nashville – which is coached to win but not built to – I’d keep an eye on each of these prospects.
Just one eye, though.
Aleksander Barkov (Fake?)
I hear great things, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him play.
Also, he plays for the Florida Panthers, so I’m pretty sure I’ll never see him play.
Is that a fair way to judge a player? No. Does that say anything positive about me or my opinions? No, of course not.
Still, how is Barkov going to impress in 2013? His new teammate, Jonathan Huberdeau, won last year’s Calder by default. That’s not to insult Huberdeau, because he played great (I hear) and assumed a major centering role with the always-rebuilding Panthers. Still, Tarasenko’s and Murray’s injuries didn’t hurt the guy, and Huberdeau finished with 31 points in 48 games – admirable but nothing to blow your toupee back.
That point-per-game click wouldn’t have granted him the hardware this year – there’s more competition – and it would be hard to imagine Barkov playing as well as Huberdeau did last year, anyway.
Tomas Hertl (Real, but kind of Fake)
If you watched Hertl at all in this year’s preseason, you couldn’t tell he was a rookie – and that’s a good thing.
Most of the time, he looked just like everyone else on a very strong Sharks team – and that’s a bad thing.
Boone Jenner (Fake)
Every year, these kind of players come along. They’re great and they’re talented, and they’ll jump right into your lineup and start shuffling out serviceable plays like a veteran, maybe even slotting in alongside the team’s already-established stars.
We had two of them last year in Ottawa’s Jakob Silfverberg (now with Anaheim) and Detroit’s Damien Brunner (now with New Jersey).
Neither of those guys won the Calder. These kinds of guys never do.